Monday, February 11, 2008

Good Health To You! (French Style)

I've been doing more blog reading than blog posting lately. As I was reading Chitlins & Camembert's recent post, it got me thinking about some really irrational things I've heard French people say. Now, mind you, these are mostly coming from dear friends of mine, but that still doesn't make them any less ludicrous.

Chitlins lives in France and was looking for a new doctor for her child. She tried one that was highly recommended, and brought her child in with a fever. She reported that her doctor scolded her for dressing her child in red when she had a fever. This makes sense since it is a known fact * that red fabric will increase your core temperature by 3 degrees. *In the United States, we refer to these "known facts" as Urban Legends and promptly disregard them or forward them in emails to induce mass inbox hysteria.

And I certainly wish I had a Euro for every time I was scolded for not having a hat on my daughter in all the times we visited and lived in France. I could afford to go back there more often! It was always shock and disbelief that Ma Fille did not have headcovering, be it in sun, wind, rain, or clouds. (I finally bought her one at dpam to stop the constant nagging by complete strangers and loved ones alike.) And if you notice on your next trip to France, you won't find many children outdoors without a hat.

So back to my story: One of our friends has come to stay with us quite often in the last 4 years because he was dating our friend (now married to each other). We asked him if there was anything he didn't like or couldn't eat. He emphatically told us his doctor strictly prohibited him from eating dairy products or pork. So, we made lots of special efforts to make meals without either of these common ingredients. I assumed that it had to do with lactose intolerance or iffy bowels. I can appreciate that, being a victim of IBS myself. One day, I couldn't tolerate the no cheese or meat any longer, so I splurged and bought some expensive havarti and some nice ham slices from the overpriced deli. I was quite sure they would be safe within my frigo waiting for my personal consumption, since our "friend" could not eat these without having ill effects.

After being gone all day, leaving Frenchie Friend at the house alone, I opened the refrigerator to retrieve my treats and make my family some sandwiches. As I reached in to pick up the once-robust package of cheese, it felt much lighter....24 slices lighter to be exact. I yelled at my family, "Who horked down all the havarti??? I just bought this last night!" Everyone in my family shouted "not me!"
The only one silent, who strangely was not in dire straights in the bathroom, finally said quietly, "oh...zat would be moi." Hubby and I gasped and said, "But I thought you were allergic to cheese?" FF said, "Yes well, I will probably pay for it tonight when my sciatic nerve becomes inflamed." Not understanding what the cheese had to do with a pinched sciatic nerve, we interrogated him. He explained that his doctor told him dairy and pork inflames the sciatic nerve, causing massive pain and sleepless nights, often resulting in a 2 week hospital stay. (No joke).

This belongs in the "don't wear red fabric when you have a fever" category. Don't eat pork or cheese if your back hurts. I have yet to see a warning label on a package of Cheddar here in the US that says, "MAY RESULT IN PINCHED NERVE IF CONSUMED WITH BACON". That rules out the quiche.

On the other hand, when there is reason to worry about food or beverages having an ill-effect on someone, the Frenchies we know just don't get it. Case in point: Hot summer day in Toulouse, 104 degrees, 100% humidity, no car, finishing up a long hot walk around the city. As we walked past the neighborhood alimentation on our way home (one we always passed up shopping at for a more aesthically pleasing marche' down the road), we decided we would die if we didn't get a cold one.
We walked inside and the young man at the counter seemed overjoyed to have customers. Not just any customers, but a group of five thirsty Americans. (We had visitors). Hubby and I decided on Heinekens in a bottle so we could drink them on the walk home. When went to pay for our beers, I asked him if he had a "truc" to pop the tops. The young man seemed very disappointed that he did not have a bottle opener. We said our 'au revoirs' and started to leave when suddenly, his eyes lit up and his finger pointed sharply skyward and he said, "WAIT! I have an idea!" We should have grabbed our Heinies and ran.

He opened his mouth wide, and inserted one of the bottle necks between the upper and lower left bicuspids, which happen to have several fillings as I remember. After much biting, wincing and salivating, our bottle came back out of the orfice of a perfect stranger--without its top. Proud of his ingenuity, he presented the green glass biohazard to us with a smile of accomplishment and servitude. Without a second's hesitation, my germaphobe Hubby said, "That's yours!" grabbed the undefiled Heiny and walked out the door.

My beer ended up in the poubelle as soon as Bottle Opener could no longer see us down the street. In disbelief, we told all our French friends this amazingly gross story. But each time the story was told and the climax was reached, everyone sat there as if there was a punchline they'd missed. No one, I repeat, no one thought this was weird or unhygenic. The only comment even close to siding with us was from a friend who had lived in the US as a child. She said, "Oh yeah, you Americans have issues with eating after other people." Another said, "Oh we French survived the World Wars, so germs can't do anything to us now!"
Oh, I don't know, maybe it's just me but I just keep thinking of words like "herpes", "hepatitis", or even "common cold".
I guess I should have been more concerned about the fan we were using during the heat wave and all the ice we added to our drinks that summer. And as I ponder this, I wonder now if the red hat I bought my daughter was the cause of her vomiting on that hot-hot day in a car with no AC on a windy road. Well, in any case, she did take it off....when she needed a barf bag. Maybe I should have bought a green one.


Jonathan & Kari said...

This is great!

We've got a little collection of similar stories since Jonathan is studying medicine so people always want to talk ailments with him.

I love that his professors even 'believe in' the courant d'air being the cause of 80% of illnesses. Even when it's hot out, no opening two windows in the classroom at once - that crossbreeze'll kill ya!

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Ah yes...We have some very dear French friends that lived near us in the UK. One time their youngest had pneumonia...and they still brought him out to social functions...until he went into the hospital. It seems the French (and many Europeans for that matter) are not as concerned with health issues like illness as we are.

La Belette Rouge said...

LOL!!! AS you were telling the story I knew he was going to eat the ham and cheese but I never could have imagined what his health issue was. Wow!
I have never heard that wives tale about wearing red when you have a fever. But it makes me wonder, I have hypothyroid and my temp is always lower than normal and I wear red a lot. Hmmm!
Great post!! LOL!!!!

Samantha said...

I've got a couple of other good ones for ya:

Apparently it is a "known fact" here that eating bananas makes you fat.

Also, air conditioning is evil and will make you sick. And like Kari said, it's ridiculous how many people think air currents cause illness.

No wonder France has been crowned the most hypochondriac country every year for at least the past ten years!!

(as a side note, what's bizarre is how unconcerned they are about food poisoning, what with how they leave uncovered meat out on the counter all day to thaw or how they've never heard of cross-contamination).

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Kari: I would LOVE to hear your stories! Stuff like this is fascinating (and maddening in an addictive way) to me, lol! About this courant d'air, I never realized this was the explanation for why no one EVER opens the windows even in sweltering heat. A friend recently went to Romania, stayed with a doctor and family and they gave her the courant d'air excuse for not opening the windows.

Cowgirl, nice to see you again! :) Yikes, about the pneumonia!

LBR: I'm so happy my story made you laugh! ;) Was it with a Texas drawl? hee hee!

Sam: Ok I am totally going to keep my ears out for the banana thing when we go next month! And seriously, it is SO WEIRD about the AC/open window myth. One day, we were so desperate for AC that we froze a water bottle with the top cut off, and then put it in from of our ventilateur, and then stuck our faces right in front of that. And as for the meat situation, omg, we had friends try to force us to eat steak tartare one time. This was in the aftermath of the vache folle frenzy, and besides, I cannot even eat a slightly pink hamburger patty, for fear of E.coli. I told the friends, they could order it, but they would be wasting their money on me, because i REFUSED to even take a single bite of that bacteria laden dish.

Cécy said...

Well I think you can't really make it a common thing with French people.
You get some cases of people who think those things yes. But I doubt you can make it a generality.

Now I think sometimes the Americans take it a bit to the extreme when it comes to hygiene too :P

For the sciatica nerve story. If you currently have back pain due to a sciatica: yes it is better to avoid too much dairy because it will not help with the swelling around the nerves. I had medical people telling me this both in France and the US.

The color thing is ridiculous.

For the air story... My grandmother would always tell us "Mets tes chaussons ou tu va attraper le mal." Translation: put your sleepers on or you'll get sick. Rofl. Like feet are were germs enter your body right.

Health is a bit cultural sometimes it seems. In France it goes from one extreme to the other. Such as refusing to import UK meat during the mad cow disease against what Europe was saying, and yes sometimes doing some very stupid things...

Anonymous said...

unless, of course, said hat had one of them fancy fans.

Betty C. said...

I have never heard the "read" story either. But French people were always admonishing me that my kids were going to catch cold if they weren't smothered with gloves, hats and scarves from head to toe.

Betty C. said...

Oops! I meant "red," so I guess it is about time for me to go to bed and "read."

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Betty---I read red when you wrote read instead of red. :)

Colleen---no fan on hat.

Cecy--I knew I could count on my French expat friend! :) I agree many Americans tend to be overly germ paranoid (our family is!), but whenever I try to lighten up...I end up catching bronchitis or pink eye...never fails!
I am not convinced that dairy has any bearing on the sciatica, but that's just my opinion. ;)
I think all the grandmothers and mothers use at least one or two Old Wives Tales. My MIL swears chicken noodle soup will cure all ailments, especially sinus infections. Never works for me though. And she swears that if you drink hot coffee on a hot day it will cool you down. And my grandmother said I would go blind if I sat too close to the TV or had my bangs in my eyes.

My Inner French Girl said...

CC, I would think that 24 slices of havarti would have done his digestion in anyway, regardless of whether or not his ailment involved his colon!

I'll be honest and say that I'm kind of with the majority of your friends on the Heineken incident. Perhaps it's growing up in the Philippines, but it wouldn't have bothered me in the least. Actually, the fact that he opened it with his teeth bothers me, if only because I'm so careful with mine, and dentists are always warning people about doing stupid things like that!

Merci mille for these hilarious stories!